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Zooming past me and other curious railroad enthusiasts, the Union Pacific’s “Big Boy” steam locomotive (and accompanying support cars) raced westward on it’s way back to Cheyenne, Wyoming. This image was taken on September 2nd at approx. 0948 hour between Kansas City and Lawrence, Kansas.

After photographing the restored beauty at Union Station, I wanted to witness this behemoth on the open road which is where he was intended to function…and for pulling freight across America’s mountains. It may be years, if ever again, he runs our way. I would call this steel wonder a ‘she’ if it were named Big Girl, but gender selection must have been by a man !

Hearing his steam whistle miles distant, seeing the approaching steam skirt and smoke rising from his boiler, the anticipation of Big Boy was over in seconds…kind of like a lot of things we experience in life. Was it worth researching a decent spot to shoot him as he approached? Was it worth hurrying to the predetermined location and hoping I didn’t miss his arrival? Was it worth feeling the rush of air hit me as he passed, similar to what I used to experience once-upon-a-time as a locomotive engineer for Santa Fe? Yes, it was worth it.

Life is made up of moments-some last only seconds while others several minutes. When we add them all together we realize that our lives comprise myriad moments. Some good, some bad and many neutral, but they all count. A worthwhile goal, at least in my opinion, is to make as many moments as pleasant as possible. These are the ones that put a smile on our faces and bring about happy thoughts. Life is tough, and seems to be getting tougher, so occasional moments such as watching an old steam locomotive zoom by at highway speeds is a nice distraction. This pleasing moment will not soon be forgotten.

Whether coming or going, we have many opportunities to make a positive impact upon others. When we meet with family, friends, acquaintances or strangers, we have the privilege of creating a meaningful and positive moment. My success rate at accomplishing this lofty goal falls short of what I feel should be my personal Gold Standard, but I achieve far less if I fail to try.

B I G B O Y

Union Pacific “Big Boy” steam locomotive

Our Native American ancestors nicknamed the steam locomotive, The Iron Horse, after this new mode of transportation began rolling across freshly laid tracks in the vast western United States. The Transcontinental Railroad was completed in 1869. The locomotives then were much smaller than this giant, but performed well enough to carry millions of passengers and freight across plains, mountains and deserts over the course of 1900 miles (3000 kilometers) of steel rails.

I wish I could state that the advent of transcontinental rail travel was a success for everyone, but that is not the case. Certainly, the myriads of settlers heading to the Promised Lands of the West Coast were overjoyed to abandon the wagon trains which preceded them. However, our Native American brethren (they were called Indians) suffered much as the railroad basically cut their living and hunting domain in half, and quickly brought about the wholesale slaughter of buffalo and added to the demise of their nations.

As technology advanced, locomotives became more powerful as the terrain and loads dictated. The Union Pacific commissioned a score of these behemoths, the largest steamers built, between 1941 and 1944. They traversed the steep grades of the Rocky Mountains until 1962. Diesel Electric locomotives eventually replaced these marvels of steel and steam.

Two key ingredients are necessary to make steam: water and heat. Steam locomotives have large boilers which accept water from their holding tanks. Heat is created by burning wood, coal or oil. Just as todays vehicles need refueling / recharging so did the steamers require frequent stops for taking on water and fuel.

The Union Pacific recently finished an extensive refurbishing of this locomotive, and it is currently operating along their rail lines from Cheyenne, Wyoming to New Orleans, Louisiana; making a ten-state, round-trip tour. Kansas City is fortunate to be one of the longer stops. The Golden Age of Rail may be over, but nostalgia isn’t as can be attested to by the throngs of folks who flock to see this steam engine and its train.

As with all things related to man, technology and the ability to produce it creates blessings and curses. How we view innovation and use technology often determines the end result…I try to remain positive in this accelerated world we live in.

P.S. I DO like my air conditioning, refrigerator, house, car, fresh food, etc. Oh, and the freedom to enjoy them. Grateful, hopeful, and cautious.

Night Moves or Locomotive Breath

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Both titles are from songs. The first by Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band and the second by Jethro Tull. However, this post isn’t about songs, but night trains and a special photographer by the name of O. Winston Link. The titles simply fit the subject rather well, and the songs were fun to listen to back in the 1970s.

This a lengthy post due to the explanations and sampling of Winston’s photographs. I have never shot glossy photos and shared them on the web so I tried various methods to keep off glare and shadows, and at the same time reveal as closely as possible the accuracy of the chosen photos. I sincerely hope I have done Mr. Link a justice by sharing his unique photography techniques and expertise. I recently came across Link’s book, Steam, Steel & Stars (published in 1987) at a garage sale! The excellent descriptive text is by Tim Hensley. It is a treasure.

If you like trains, especially steam-driven trains and anything related to railroads then this book is sure to please. Link was a successful commercial photographer in New York and loved steam-driven trains so much that he created a five-year project of shooting the Norfolk & Western Railroad in various settings-all at night in the late 50s and early 60s. During the 1950s and 60s, the N&W was the last remaining Class 1 railroad in the United States to utilize all steam-powered locomotives. Diesel-powered units were already becoming standard on most lines. Winston’s photographs not only capture the steam engines in many unique and well thought-out locations, but also give us a time freeze of Americana during this period. The book contains 90 duo-tone images. I have narrowed my selection to 9 plus a bonus shot.

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Winston Link would go to great extremes to capture his scenes which remind me of moving Norman Rockwell paintings. He would spend weeks scouting out the exact location for his camera and series of flash spot lights-all the while maintaining his regular career. He traveled extensively throughout the N&W’s area of operation; parts of Virginia, North Carolina, West Virginia, and Maryland. Below is the bonus shot which shows some of the challenges and means to capture these bellowing behemoths. His spot lights fired in unison were a unique invention and the master control was never out of his sight. Some shots required thousands of feet of cables running across streets, rivers, and on buildings. Passion would be a word to describe O. Winston Link’s love affair with steam-powered trains. He composed great images which not only show cased his beloved trains, but tell a story about rural life in America fifty-plus years ago. Winston can be seen on the left of the spot light photo, next to an assistant. After hours of setting up, there would often be hours of waiting for a train to rumble by. Link’s work has been exhibited in prominent art museums in America, England, France and in many private exhibits. In my humble opinion, O. Winston Link was a true artist, and a clever one at that. Interestingly, his book was printed in Italy. Thanks for taking the time to view this post. I hope you enjoyed it and will look further into Link’s photography.

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